Though it still has little chance of passing through Congress, President Barack Obama has declared his support for the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to several civil rights anti-discrimination protection laws. Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the announcement. Via The Washington Post:
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration had been reviewing the bill "for several weeks."
"Upon that review it is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act," he said. "That bill is historic legislation that would advance the cause of equality for millions of Americans.
"We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that the legislative process produces a result that balances both the bedrock principles of civil rights .?.?. with the religious liberty that we hold dear in this country," Earnest added.
Odd that he would add that last part, because the Equality Act specifically would forbid the use of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense against a claim of discrimination. It doesn't alter the parts of federal civil rights legislation that exempts religious and private clubs, so he's not completely wrong. He's just hiding the fact that the "religious liberty" would actually be restricted.
I've written extensively about the full text of the Equality Act before and how it represents where gay movement is pivoting to post the marriage victory. The law adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act and provides anti-discrimination protection in employment, housing, lending, jury duty, and public accommodations.
What gets much less attention is that the Equality Act also massively expands what the federal government counts as a public accommodation. Federal law restricts public accommodations to dining establishments, hotels, gas stations, and public entertainment venues. State-level public accommodation laws tend to be broader, covering any form or retail establishment or service. Under current federal law, it would still be okay for a photographer or florist to decline to provide their services for a gay marriage, even if the feds added sexual orientation. The Equality Act would broaden the federal public accommodation law to match what many states have. This would mean that both the state and the Department of Justice could go after any complaint that a customer was denied service for being a minority, or a woman, or a man, or gay, or straight, or whatever is on the list. Even if one were to accept that the government should play a role in preventing businesses from discriminating against customers (and I'm not saying you should), it seems an unnecessary, punitive expansion for a sin that is not only not very common any longer but is also of fairly limited harm. And, as always, the private sector has any number of tools (bad press, boycotts, competition) to direct toward bigoted businesses.
Regardless, the Equality Act is not going anywhere in Congress, especially considering how transgender bathroom panic killed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance a week ago. I'll say again what I said back when that happened: The government should focus its efforts on ending discriminatory behavior by the government (such as in jury service or contracting, et cetera). Leave the citizens and private businesses to combat private discrimination with the many powerful tools culture has provided for them.